Republican County With One of the Highest Vaccination Rates

Despite being rural, remote and moreover Republican, New York’s Hamilton County has one of the highest vaccination rates in the United States. 

According to ABC News Analysis, the people hesitant to vaccinate come from rural areas where the population is young, poor and Trump supporters.

However, Hamilton defies all such logical trends. According to the county’s board chairman, Bill Farber the county is “very, very rural”, isolated and faces infrastructure and technology challenges including broadband and cell services. The country politically leaned towards Republican Party, has no hospitals or pharmacies. 

And yet compared with 36% of Americans nationally, an astonishing 65% of the county’s population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19. 

“We’ve watched nationally, this political fight over COVID,” Farber said. “We defied the odds, didn’t we?”

Farber stated that Hamilton managed to sidestep that difference in politician opinion when it came to vaccines in part because its campaign was driven by the community and involved a lot of the members. Schools and even  fire houses became vaccination centers. Businessmen shared the county with lists of their employees as soon as they were eligible to be vaccinated. Local volunteers and neighbors worked on spreading information about the vaccine and talked about how excited they were to have protection against the virus. Word of mouth from trusted friends and family influenced the opinion of the community on getting jabbed.

“That type of localized community conversation is so powerful in educating people, particularly in this day and age when people are so suspicious of politics and government,” he added

Besides keeping politics and public health separately, Hamilton benefited from having a plan in place when COVID-19 hit. Many small, rural communities don’t have public health departments, but Hamilton has one which had a pandemic plan in place for more than a decade, which involved partnering with schools, the fire department, ambulance squad, law enforcement and community leaders.

When Inlet’s (a small town in Hamilton) director of tourism Adele Burnett came to know that Hamilton Health Department needed help registering people for vaccination, she along with other members of the local COVID-19 task force compiled lists of people they knew were eligible to get vaccinated and called to get them registered for vaccines.

“We’d actually pick up the phone and start making calls. They didn’t have to sit there on the computer refreshing the page, “Burnett stated.

According to Farber, the health department additionally helped residents overcome technology barriers and tried to schedule vaccines as per their convenience. They were offered vaccine clinics in the evening and on Saturdays. The county tailored the clinic hours as per the different target groups. 

Now, just like many other places in the country, vaccinations in Hamilton are slowing and the county is finding new ways to engage the unvaccinated. The county partnered with schools to get newly eligible teenagers vaccinated, additionally the county is planning to offer them at grocery stores and gas station parking lots and at farmers’ markets well.

Despite all the efforts, Farber and Burnett acknowledged that getting a 100% vaccination was highly unlikely, even in Hamilton, and that some people would still remain unvaccinated. Still, Farber believes this CDC announcement that fully vaccinated people can go out without  wearing masks, could encourage some of the holdouts in Hamilton.

“Rather than getting caught up in it being a Republican or a Democrat issue, it really was seen as a community issue. I think that was our saving grace,” Farber concluded.